The Fugitive Slaves, oil on paperboard, circa 1862, Brooklyn Museum
(Read Part 1: Further Recollections of Butterworth Station)
The following is an excerpt from Chapter Seven of The Search for the Underground Railroad in South-Central Ohio by Tom Calarco, scheduled for publication in late October by History Press. It is being published with permission from History Press.
Tom Calarco is a resident of Historic Downtown Loveland, Ohio.
By Tom Calarco
Part Two of Two
Butterworth Station of Loveland and the Underground Railroad: Further Recollections
In 1894, Robert Carroll provided the Cincinnati Times-Star with his account of the assistance he gave the Butterworths in their work along the Underground Railroad.
Often, in this wild flight for freedom, the master, with his unhuman helpers was in close pursuit, armed … devoid of mercy, protected by the law, and supported by a public sentiment that was respectable … Whether the pursuit was or was not immediate and pressing, it was always probable and expected, so that the runaway was in the condition of the hunted . . . .
Along the banks of the Little Miami River in the hilly countryside north of Cincinnati, stands an old stone house, a relic of slower days, when there was lots of land and few people. It is not lived in much these days, but a big family of Quakers lived there for many years. Their forefather, Benjamin Butterworth was a six-foot six inch pioneer, a giant of a man who was said to have weighed 300 pounds. His roots in America dated back before the 1700s. Born in Virginia, he fought in the Revolution and was entitled to purchase a grant of land in the Northwest Territory, in the Virginia Military District, of which much of Ohio was part. This land and his inheritance provided him with substantial wealth. He was like many future Ohioans who would settle the new state: a slaveholder who freed his slaves and took them along to where there was no slavery.
The people that helped [fugitives] . . . had no rational hope of compensation. On the contrary, they gave aid, with the certainly of the loss of time and money, and with the possibility of fines and imprisonment.
One early morning I was told to go up in the haymow. On doing so I was somewhat startled to see half a dozen black persons hidden away. That day they lay hid and their food was carried to them with secrecy. About 9 o’clock that evening we hitched up, [and] cautiously loaded the vehicle with its human freight, and carefully fastened down the curtains.
Thomas Butterworth was there and assisted. It was raining; the sky was still clouded and the roads wet and muddy. We went at first by a lane, across the farm of Butterworth, another of the brothers … We soon struck the main road and turned our course towards the North Star . . . . We drove along at a round pace, always on the lookout for pursuers, and it must be confessed, somewhat nervous. Now and then we stopped, and by the struggling moonbeam’s misty light, carefully scanned the road in both directions. We crossed Todd’s Fork near the site of Morrow; drove past Rochester and Clarksville and on through the night to Harveysburg, where we arrived just after daylight. As we traveled along the stories of the blacks were told.
We soon struck the main road and turned our course towards the North Star. Now and then we stopped, and by the struggling moonbeam’s misty light, carefully scanned the road in both directions.
In one, a slave trader had come to their plantation which meant the possibility of being sold to the Deep South where they would be overworked in brutal conditions with the likelihood of dying an early death. Another was family of three, whose twelve-year-old daughter was under consideration of being sold away. They stole a skiff and rowed down the Licking River to Cincinnati. A third told of a man who contracted out to work and earn money which he was using to pay for both the freedom of himself and his wife. Unfortunately, his wife was owned by a different master, a Baptist minister in fact, who sold her away to the Deep South.
Unfortunately, his wife was owned by a different master, a Baptist minister in fact, who sold her away to the Deep South.
“Scruples of conscience at violating the Fugitive Slave Law readily vanished before such narrative[s],” Carroll said.
Ready to vanquish any such scruples was an eccentric and intensely intellectual abolitionist and free thinker, Orson S. Murray who moved into the Butterworth neighborhood sometime in the early 1840s. Long hair, scraggy beard, he was an unappealing, atheistic version of Jesus Christ. He had come from Vermont, where he’d been a fiery antislavery speaker who antagonized the already angry mobs gathering at antislavery lectures all over the North. Here in remote Ohio he found some solitude, a haven for his ideas, and people who would tolerate him.
Murray already had done some writing in metaphysical journals of the day and had published his own newspaper in Vermont, The Telegraph. He started another newspaper, the Regenerator, not far from the Butterworth backyard. Its motto: ignorance was evil and knowledge its remedy.
Here’s what William Burleigh, the brother of eccentric antislavery speaker, Charles Burleigh, whom Murray named one of his children after, wrote about the Regenerator: “Mr. Murray appears to be a benevolent and self-denying man–is very eccentric in his appearance–very wild in many of his notions–and a very unsafe leader, for he leads into the mazes of skepticism and infidelity.”
And here’s what Murray had to say about the Regenerator himself: “If the Regenerator has helped to dispel and disperse the delusion, that that book [the Bible] is the voice of a god–and to show that it is only the words of men–men, some of them, in profound ignorance and darkness on the subjects they were pretending to elucidate–it has done something towards accomplishing one of the principal objects which have impelled me to do the very unpopular work of publishing it.”
Legends say he might’ve helped some fugitives too. He lived until 1885, dying at the age of 78.
Butterworth’s daughter Jane also wrote to Siebert, of her memories when she was about six or seven years old:
I saw no people of color, heard no words, but I was sure there was such in our wagon.
Among my earliest recollections, I was awakened about sunrise by the stopping of my father’s large wagon and two horse, and [him] handing me a little child 5 or 6 years old over to the care of a thrifty woman [who had come] out of a well-kept farmhouse, while he gave a shrill whistle for the men to come up from the field. I was taken into the house and seated in a small chair. The woman then gave me some freshly baked ginger bread while father talked with the man. I did not understand so unusual a visit at that place and time of my life for nothing was explained to me and I saw no people of color, heard no words, but I was sure there was such in our wagon. But as I grew older and learned about the Underground R.R, I knew that we were in that business then. [After] that time I [went] with my father on this said business when I was old enough to know about it. Several times I remember mother coming to our bedroom late at night and getting [us] all up in a hurry and putting us in bed elsewhere to give our bed to a lot of fugitives who come weary and tired, and our grandmother [Rachel who died in 1848] would tell them to “go to sleep, you will be safe in that room, nobody will get you there.”
Several times I remember mother coming to our bedroom late at night and getting [us] all up in a hurry and putting us in bed elsewhere to give our bed to a lot of fugitives who come weary and tired.
Thomas said his brother, William, who lived a few miles north in Maineville, probably helped twice as many as him. How many is not known though Thomas said he probably helped as many as one hundred. Family anecdotes, however, suggest more, including stories of single parties numbering as many as 26 belying Thomas’s count. The important thing though was that all were brought safely to freedom.
“I can say in truth that such was our success that I do not believe a single one was ever re-captured and taken back to slavery,” he said.
Read Part 1: Further Recollections of Butterworth Station
1. Robert W. Carroll, “An Underground Railway: Fugitive Slaves and the Butterworths,” Cincinnati Times-Star, August 19, 1896, Siebert Collection.
2. Review of The Regenerator by William H. Burleigh, editor of the Christian Freeman, Jan. 22, 1844: 14 < https://popularfreethought.wordpress.com/browse-by-title/regenerator-1844-1854/ >
3. Extract from a Letter.” 175 (Jan. 1854): 353 < https://popularfreethought.wordpress.com/browse-by-title/regenerator-1844-1854/ >
4. Henry T. Butterworth to Wilbur Siebert, June 9, 1892, includes recollection of Jane.